How to help with the refugee crisis

No-one can avoid seeing the terrible conditions faced by refugees. Here's how businesses can help

The ongoing Syrian civil war has led to almost 14 million Syrians fleeing their homes, with millions seeking safety in Europe. In September 2015 prime minister David Cameron announced that Britain would take in 20,000 Syrian refugees over the course of this parliament. And in the third quarter of 2015 alone the UK received 10,156 applications for asylum, according to the Refugee Council. The sheer numbers are staggering, as are the more personal stories of the dangers those forced to leave their homes have faced.

Does business have a role to play in helping those who have fled their country and successfully made the treacherous journey to the UK? Should engaging with the crisis form part of a business’ CSR strategy? Refugee Council head of advocacy Lisa Doyle told HR magazine that “members of the business community” have been moved by the plight of refugees arriving in Europe and want to help.

“We’ve had all kinds of people coming forward to help, from donating funds, to helping directly by working with us to create employment opportunities for refugees, to helping us strengthen our website and digital communications,” she said.

However, Richard Tyrie, founder and CEO of corporate social responsibility consultancy GoodPeople warned that if businesses want to get involved it needs to be a long-term commitment, rather than choosing to support it as a ‘charity of the year’. “An organisation cannot sustain long-term value over the course of just one year,” Tyrie told HR magazine.

He explained that there are two ways businesses could assist with the refugee situation that are more effective than just raising cash. “The first is by helping charities to increase their capacity and scope,” he said. “That could mean making a difference in the charity’s brand, in their financing, or what the corporate partner specialises in.

“The other way is to find ways to help individual refugees. [Businesses] could, for example, choose to offer mentoring to those who have fled their home country, or provide jobs. Just having your brand aligned to that agenda, to make a public display of support, helps to normalise these discussions. The impact a company has shouldn’t just be monetary, it should be people and skills, rather than just handing over cash.”

One such organisation helping in this way is temporary staffing agency LOLA Event Staffing, which has worked with the Refugee Council to provide mentoring and positions for those in need.

Senior HR manager Tom Boyesen-Corballis explained that even if businesses feel they can only do a little, whatever they can do is better than nothing. “It’s easy to be put off helping because you don’t have a huge budget for ethical pursuits,” he told HR magazine. “We are a relatively small company, which has a great team of compassionate people who want to actively help people rather than just donate money, so we help out in a way that we can – through our work – where we can really know that a difference is being made.”

Boyesen-Corballis also highlighted the benefits for the business of doing CSR activity. “There are benefits for the charity of course and these matter, but there are also important benefits from a company’s point of view,” he said. “In my experience allowing people to commit a small amount of time to helping a cause that they believe in will drive motivation, loyalty and morale and will bond the team together. If we all pitch in we can make a huge difference.”

“If you’re a business leader looking for ways to help then the best thing to do is to have a conversation with a charity like the Refugee Council about useful ways you can work together,” added Doyle. “The results could be life changing.”